People who have been diagnosed with the HIV virus now have another powerful tool they can add to their fight against the disease.
A recent study, published in this month’s edition of Brain, Behavior, and Immunology, demonstrates that participants in an eight-week mindfulness meditation course showed improvement in their CD4 T cells, the loss of which is an indicator of worsening HIV.
While the control group, who had no meditation training, lost an average of 185 T-cells, the meditation group improved their T-cell count by an average of 20.
CD4= T lymphocytes, also simply called “T cells,” are the masterminds of the immune system. HIV attacks T-cells, causing the patient’s immunity to become more and more compromised, while opportunistic diseases attack. If the T-cells become too low, the patient will eventually succumb to a secondary infection, like pneumonia.
During the study, the meditation group met for two hours every week, had a full one-day retreat near the end of the study, and received daily audio-tape meditation exercises to do at home.
Lead author David Cresswell, a researcher with the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, posited that the effect of meditation was to reduce stress in the participants. Stress can wreak havoc on the immune system, and the authors wrote that by diminishing stress, HIV patients could strengthen their immune systems.
“This study provides the first indication that mindfulness meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression,” said Cresswell to reporters.
Even better news was that the meditation sessions seemed to provide extra benefits if the participants meditated even more than recommended by the study. “The more mindfulness meditation classes people attended, the higher the CD4 T cells at the study’s conclusion,” said Cresswell.
The effects of meditation were the same whether patients were taking antiretroviral medications or not.
The study is significant, because HIV and AIDS researchers are always seeking to find new methods or drugs that can help boost T-cell activity. It is the first of its kind to show a slowing of HIV disease progression through meditation practice.
By Anastacia Mott Austin